Hit The Road
Strangers can help make or break trip
Perhaps the single hardest thing to get used to when traveling is the idea that not everyone will be friendly. Of course, this is a generalization -- I have been fortunate to have made lots of friends while traveling. However, I am always shocked when strangers are downright rude.
These people don't usually think of themselves as being rude, which is part of the problem. My friend Mike, who's from Oklahoma, said that he didn't realize how quickly he had slipped into the "New York state of mind" until one day when he let the door close after him on his way into a department store, even though he knew there was an elderly woman behind him.
"My mom would have been so mad at me," he told me later. He had brought his good manners to New York with him, but like his accent, his manners slipped away over time.
Even though I've done quite a bit of flying lately, I still find it awkward when a person sits next to me and doesn't acknowledge my presence. That is usually compounded by their hogging of the armrest. The best solution I've found is to smile at everyone. I smile at the flight attendants. I smile at the little kids who walk up and down the aisle staring at people. I even smile at the people who stare grumpily at me while waiting in the aisle blocked by that guy who keeps trying to force his too-large carry-on bag into the overhead compartment.
Usually, these people don't smile back, and I'm sure half of them assume that I'm a vapid airhead, but on rare occasions someone does smile back. Sometimes that person is the one who ends up with the seat next to mine. Those flights always seem so much shorter.
ON A CONNECTING flight from Chicago to London, I met a guy named Jason. He was headed to England to be with his fiancee, Sara, from Oxford. They had met in Sydney during a study-abroad program. After breaking up when they finished the program, they returned to their homes and decided they missed each other too much to be an ocean and half a continent apart. She graduated and flew to Chicago, where she worked through a visa until he graduated and they moved to England. Six months later, he proposed to her with a ring tied to a stuffed koala bear.
I have written about avoiding romance on the road, but there are rare instances where people do find their life partners while traveling. Even after my troubles with long-distance relationships and intercontinental romance, these stories always tug at my heart. So the next time someone sits next to you on an airplane, say hello. You never know what kind of stories they might have to share.
Joy Uyeno travels frequently throughout the year, and her column geared toward beginning travelers or youths experiencing their first extended stay abroad appears the second Sunday each month in the Star-Bulletin Travel section.